| March 20, 2018

Column: Spring into baseball

March 20, 2017

The dramatic conclusion to the 2016 Major League Baseball season is going to be remembered for its history-making and unlikely ending.

The Chicago Cubs, playing for their first World Series win in over a century, faced a 3-1 series deficit against the Cleveland Indians.

The improbable comeback victory was quite a fitting way to end the Cubs’ World Series woes. With how long the Cubs franchise, players and fans had waited to claim the title of World Series champions, do you actually believe any Indians’ lead was safe?

Major League Baseball has 30 teams, 162 games and a long, exhilarating postseason, but there is only one World Series champion.

With the 2017 MLB season less than a month away, it is hard not to wonder which team will win the World Series and overcome itself. This is ultimately what baseball is: a battle against oneself.

Preparation for the season-long battle begins with spring training. Pitchers, catchers and position players report to their designated camps in hope that when the postseason comes, their team will emerge victoriously.

Spring training is full of opportunities. Underrated players strive to solidify their spot on a major league roster, while everyday players work out the kinks and get back in the swing of things.

Preseason records do not factor into a team’s regular season win total, so the outcome of a spring training game does not typically hold significant meaning. The World Baseball Classic (WBC), on the other hand, are baseball games that do hold significant meaning.

The WBC occurs every four years, right before the MLB season. It is a 16-team baseball tournament comparable to the Olympic Games. Players from all over the world — including members of MLB teams — represent their home countries with intense passion.

Many of these passionate players come to the United States specifically to play professional baseball.

It would be unfair to say the WBC is more important than the MLB season, so I won’t say it. However, the energy the players have when competing for their own country is unrivaled.

WBC games are full of unique competition. Depending on the matchup, MLB teammates will play against each other in WBC games. The WBC invites unfamiliarity, and often results in a hard-fought contest.

During the current WBC, multiple games have already ended in dramatic fashion, so late-inning excitement seems routine for the WBC.

Baseball is a unique sport that is not ruled by a game clock, like football and basketball are — it is ruled by outs and innings.

A hitter needs only one pitch to keep his team alive. The goal is to always get the next player to the plate, and provide teammates with an opportunity to extend the game. That sense of constant hope is one of the many reasons baseball is unlike other sports.

There is only so much a football or basketball team can do when it is trailing considerably and with time dwindling. The presence of a ticking game clock would be enough to create anxiety or initiate the need to hurry.

Baseball allows its players to play at their own pace and not rush the moment. If any aspect of the game is hurried, there is nothing to blame but the player’s performance at that given moment.

The best baseball players will slow their heart rates, when a game is on the line. The best baseball players understand that they are the game clock, and their execution will determine whether or not a game continues.

Whether it is during a spring training, WBC or World Series game, the players who can slow the game down and be bigger than the moment are frequently successful.

Zack Ozuna can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @OzunaZack21

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